#10- Good Will Hunting (1997)

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Directed By: Gus Van Sant
Written By: Matt Damon and Ben Affleck
Starring: Matt Damon, Robin Williams, Minnie Driver, Stellan Skarsgard, and Ben Affleck

The Plot

Will Hunting (Damon) is a mathematical genius with no potential or drive to use his gift due to his horrific upbringing full of beatings and abuses by his father. While working as a janitor at MIT, Professor Gerald Lambeau (Skarsgard) discovers Hunting's gift and does his best to nurture it. He enlists the help of his former college roommate Sean Maguire (Williams), a psychologist, to help Will Hunting get through his demons and reach his potential. Maguire, along with Hunting's newfound girlfriend Skylar (Driver) and his best friend Chuckie (Ben Affleck) help to aid Will Hunting to get through his problems.

Why This Movie Is Great

This movie is brilliant because it's a character study into a wounded genius. The film is great because it doesn't show you why Will Hunting is the way he is, it just plops you right in the middle of his life and takes you on a journey to try and make this guy better. The film doesn't try to be cliche and bash you over the head saying, "Look! See! This guy is messed up! See! This is what happens when you beat children!" Instead, it takes a subtle approach. It comes out in bits and pieces. Hunting's abusive childhood affects his future relationships (no shit) but it does so at key moments. Hunting is very good at picking up chicks (he picks up Skylar with relative easy and bravado) but as the relationship progresses and gets more intimate, Will Hunting starts to get more distant.


A fantastic example of this is when Skylar asks Will to move away with her. As the audience all we see is a great and blossoming relationship. It just seems logical that Will would want to take his relationship to the next step. Instead, Will lashes out as a defensive mechanism to avoid intimacy. (In fact, most of what Will does is a defensive mechanism).

We see early on in the film that Will is messed up as Lambeau takes him to see psychiatrists, but we, as the audience, are not fully aware of how deep and troubled Will is because he is constantly fucking with everybody he meets. It's not until Sean Maguire, Lambeau's old college roommate, starts to see Will that we start delving deep into Will's problems. The meetings between Sean and Will are like Will Hunting himself. They start of tame and superficial but as you dig deeper the true colors get revealed.

Sean, like Will, is also troubled. Sean has lost the love of his life- his wife- and he still struggles to cope with her death. He has to deal with his own problems and he does so vicariously through his aid of Will. Like Will, Sean also grows and matures as we see through his therapy sessions with Will as well as his time spent with his old, and much more successful, former college roommate Lambeau.

Gus Van Sant does his best directorial job ever in Good Will Hunting. There are subtle shots and scenes that are just amazing. For example, as Will is riding on a train as he is getting closer towards his ending point, we see Will slouched in his chair with his arms spread across the seats next to him. The shot is just Will silent on a train but it's shot so as it looks like Will is Jesus on the cross. Brilliant! It's subtle things like that help make this movie fantastic.

I was reading a lot of online reviews before typing up this post and the most common criticism I found was that this film was too predictable. No shit Sherlock, of course it's predictable. Of course Will Hunting is going to overcome his demons and be with Skylar. I have two responses to that: 1) This movie is completely character driven and not even remotely close to being plot driven. I care more about what happens to the characters and their journey to get there rather than the plot itself and 2) That ending was not even close to a typical Hollywood ending. Will did not catch Skylar before she left for California and made some romantic speech to win her back. Will pushed Skylar so far away that she actually left for California thinking they were broken up and Will travels on a open road (a great, yet widely used symbolic gesture (see: Cast Away) to show Will's open path ahead of him). He just says "I'm going to see about a girl". He doesn't actually meet up with her. I thought the ending of the movie was great. Also, if you complain the movie ending was typical and cliche then ask yourself, would you want the reverse to happen? You want to see Will Hunting be a nobody piece-of-shit for the rest of his life? Well, if so, you're a dick.

It's a shame Good Will Hunting was released in 1997- the same year as Titanic- because otherwise it would have swept the Oscars. It did win two Academy Awards: Best Supporting Actor (Robin Williams) and Best Screenplay (Damon and Affleck) but it's a shame it didn't win more. But hey (and a bit of a spoiler alert), Good Will Hunting made Game Of Inches Top 25 Movies Of The Past 25 years and Titanic wasn't remotely close to making it. So, at least it's got that working for it.


1) During a therapy session, Sean is discussing to Will how his wife used to fart all the time. This scene was ad libed by Williams which is why Damon is laughing so damn hard through it. The camera also shakes throughout the scene because the cameraman was laughing so hard as well.

2) During the therapy session where Sean tells Will how he met his wife before attending a Boston Red Sox game, we see a bird's eye view of Sean's office. In Sean's office are four chairs. They are set up like the bases of a baseball diamond (another subtle proof of Van Sant's greatness in this movie).

3) Will's three friends are Chuckie, Morgan (played by Ben's brother Casey Affleck), and Billy (played by Cole Hauser). Hauser barely talks throughout the movie because he purposefully gave up most of his lines to Casey. He did so because he felt there is always one shy dude in the group and if he barely talked it would add more authenticity to the movie. He was right.

4) In the scene where Skylar meets Will's three friends at the local bar, Chuckie (Ben Affleck) is telling a story about how his uncle got pulled over after a night of heavy drinking a stole a cop car. Van Sant told Casey to constantly interrupt Ben as he was telling the story to add authenticity to the group dynamic- without telling Ben what Casey was about to do. As Chuckie is telling the story he yells at Morgan "Will you shut the fuck up!" This was ad libed by Ben because he was pissed Casey kept interrupting his big monologue. Another subtle example of Van Sant's brilliance.

5) In the very beginning of the movie, Will and his three friends are watching a little league baseball game. They leave the game and one of them says, "Let's go to Kelly's" (which the boys then do). Kelly's is a fast food chain in the Boston-area and is the best fucking place ever for seafood. I try to go to Boston once a year and when I do I always go to Kelly's to get a lobster roll. Part of the reason I ranked Good Will Hunting the best Boston movie of all time.